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    Russia and Finland Claim Empress Catherine's Sunken Treasure


    by NTDTelevision

    Russian private funders would like to participate in retrieving Catherine the Great's sunken treasure from the Baltic sea. But first, Finland and Russia have to agree on salvage and ownership rights.

    The Dutch ship Vrouw Maria, or Lady Maria, sank in the Baltic Sea in October 1771.

    The two-masted merchant ship was en route from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg, Russia with what is believed to be 28 paintings by renowned Dutch artists of the 16th and 17th centuries.

    The works were purchased at an Amsterdam auction for the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great.

    Although the condition of the cargo remains unknown, experts believe it might be of enormous value if the supposed paintings were not destroyed.

    The wreck of Vrouw Maria was found in Finnish territorial waters at a depth of 131 feet by a group of divers in 1999.

    At present, the Finnish government refuses to give permission to raise the ship which it claims belongs to Finland because it has rested in territorial waters for over 200 years.

    The Finnish side offered a rescue project that should cost 80 million U.S. dollars and take 10 to 12 years to complete.

    Meanwhile, one Russian businessman offers a much less expensive alternative.

    [Artyom Tarasov, Russian Businessman]:
    "We offer to raise one container within one year. We will do it very carefully, we will lift items only after we fasten them properly. We will make a wider hole in the deck and lift one container to the surface. It might take a year and it might cost one million dollars, but not eighty [million]."

    Tarasov spent much time in Dutch archives trying to identify the ship and its cargo and believes the paintings were packed into special cases made of elk skin, put into lead barrels and containers, and filled with wax.

    Over the past few years, Russia and Finland have arranged a number of expert meetings on the project.